Decreased juvenile arson and firesetting recidivism after implementation of a multidisciplinary prevention program

J Trauma. 2002 Aug;53(2):260-4; discussion 264-6. doi: 10.1097/00005373-200208000-00012.


Objectives: In 1999, we developed the multidisciplinary Trauma Burn Outreach Prevention Program (TBOPP), which focuses on the medical and societal consequences of firesetting behavior. The basis for this program development was a 17% increase in pediatric burn admissions. The purpose of this study was to determine the value of this trauma burn center prevention program from a financial, clinical, and recidivism perspective.

Methods: Juveniles (ages 4-17 years) were enrolled into our 1-day program on the basis of referrals from the county court system, fire departments, schools, and parents. The program's interactive content focuses on the medical, financial, legal, and societal impact of firesetting behavior, with emphasis on individual accountability and responsibility. The court system and fire departments tracked all episodes of firesetting behavior within their respective communities. Arson is defined as behavior with the intent to produce damage, whereas firesetting is defined as having no ill intent. The recidivism rate was determined using fire department and court follow-up records. Follow-up was from 8 months to 2.5 years. A random control group that did not receive TBOPP education (noTBOPP group) with identical entry criteria was used for comparison. Institutional review board approval was obtained.

Results: There were 132 juveniles in the TBOPP group (66 arsonists and 66 firesetters) and 102 juveniles in the noTBOPP group (33 arsonists and 66 firesetters). Fifty-nine TBOPP participants had a medical history of behavioral disorders. Property damage for arson averaged $4,040, with additional court costs of $1,135 per incident. Family environment was an independent predictor for risk of repeat offense. The odds ratio for risk of repeat offense in foster care was 17.9 (p < 0.05) as compared with two-parent homes. The recidivism rate was 1 of 32 (<1%) for the TBOPP group and 37 of 102 (36%) for the noTBOPP group (adjusted odds ratio, 0.02; p < 0.001).

Conclusion: When compared with the noTBOPP group, TBOPP participants had essentially no recidivism. The financial impact of arson behavior was over $6,000 per incident. The implementation of a juvenile firesetting prevention program has demonstrable benefits to the participants and to society.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Firesetting Behavior / prevention & control*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Education*
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Michigan
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Regression Analysis
  • Secondary Prevention